Danny Burke was a good friend of mine and a lot of other kids in George Washington junior high school in Wayne, NJ. He participated in our boxing matches and other activities. One of those kids who everybody liked because of his enthusiasm, friendly positive spirit, and just a fun kid to be around.
Nine years ago Danny and I reconnected on Facebook, our first contact since junior high school eighth grade. Our cyber reunion was sparked by Roberto Duran. The end of eighth grade was memorable because in the last week of school before summer was the Roberto Duran vs Sugar Ray Leonard fight in Montreal on June 20, 1980.
Danny remembered that I was a huge fan of Duran back then and so I guess it was a Facebook post about Duran or something inspired him to tell me about his Duran encounters in Panama, connected to his career as a talented trumpet player/musician.
“Twenty years ago I stayed at this palace in Panama when I was playing with the salsa/latin band out of New York City. I remember he was generous to a fault. I was able to take some good photos there with Roberto Duran. I also saw some photos at his house of him, there was one with Duran and Sugar Ray in a restaurant laughing together. I was shocked when he told me he was friends with Sugar Ray Leonard. I said, really? He said, ‘Yeah – we made millions off each other.’ Duran remains my favorite fighter of all time.”
I was stunned to hear Duran invited my old friend to his home.
“Yeah – he saw us at a hotel we were playing in Panama. After the first set someone from his entourage said he wants to meet the entire band. I couldn’t believe he was out there! I sat down next to him and he ordered an entire bottle of Baccardi rum for me when I asked for a drink. Fantastic! He also had a salsa band of his own. He sat in with us, too. But he wasn’t much of a singer. He later called for a bus to pick us up the following morning at 9:00 am to party at his house which wound up going two days straight. We just got to bed a couple hours earlier. I vividly remember standing in the pool playing the trumpet with Roberto Duran.”
This was magic to my senses. My old friend became amigos with Roberto Duran!
“We actually had to sneak out of his house we were so tired, but feared we would insult him. Then Duran went to another gig of ours. Someone from his entourage got into a fight whith a guy who actually pulled out a gun! The crowd dispersed and Duran jumped in front of his friend telling the guy to go ahead and shoot him. Duran dared the guy to shoot him! For a moment I thought I was going to witness Duran getting murdered in Panama. The guy with the gun ended up backing down and went away. It was unbelievable.”
Sadly, my friend Danny Burke passed away this past weekend. But his hand will be raised as a champion by this article and his friend Roberto Duran.